“We’re just really proud to have made the contributions to take it to that next level,” said Chris Jennings, executive director of the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C., where the musical ran from November 2021 to January, selling out the 774-seat Sidney Harman Hall and earning a one-week extension.
Jennings told The Washington Post that the high-octane, extremely non-biographical musical — his company’s first full production since the pandemic began — was the best-selling show in its 36-year history. “This show was such a gift and so essential after having been shut for so long,” he said.
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A slew of recent Broadway shows, including the now-running “MJ the Musical” about Michael Jackson and “A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical,” have followed a biographical formula, weaving the artists’ songs into a plot built around their life story.
“Once Upon a One More Time” goes a more fantastical route, deploying Spears chart-toppers such as “Oops! … I Did It Again,” “Circus” and “Toxic” as it tells a storybook-like tale in which Cinderella, Snow White and their fellow princesses experience a feminist awakening after reading Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.” It avoids the potentially thorny challenge of navigating the 41-year-old pop star’s personal life, including a recently terminated conservatorship that gave her father and others almost complete control over her personal life and finances.
“The only thing I was told was that [Spears] loves fairies,” the show’s writer, Jon Hartmere, told The Post last fall. He said he was also given access to Spears’s entire discography. “And I was like, ‘That’s it, that’s what we’ve got to go on.’ ”
Spears has not been actively involved in its development. “I’m so excited to have a musical with my songs, especially one that takes place in such a magical world filled with characters that I grew up on, who I love and adore,” Spears said in a statement after attending a reading of the show in 2019. Her publicist did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the show’s Broadway run.
“Once Upon a One More Time” will move into the Marquis Theatre after “Beetlejuice” — another musical that originated in D.C. — plays its final performance there Jan. 8.
The show’s Broadway cast will be announced at a later date. It is directed and choreographed by the married team of Keone and Mari Madrid, experienced hip-hop choreographers helming their first Broadway show. They’ll be aided by creative consultant David Leveaux, a five-time Tony-nominated director. Scenic designer Anna Fleischle and costume and hair designer Loren Elstein will return after working on the D.C. staging, and Tony-winning lighting designer Kenneth Posner (“Wicked”) will join the production.
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The D.C. run featured sitcom veteran Briga Heelan (“Ground Floor,” “B Positive”) as Cinderella and “American Idol” alumnus Justin Guarini as Prince Charming. Jennings said the Shakespeare Theatre will have a financial interest in the musical’s Broadway run.
“If the show [is] successful, this will be of a future financial benefit to the theater, which allows us to reinvest in the work that we do and the development of other works,” Jennings said.
In a mixed review last December, Post theater critic Peter Marks called “Once Upon a One More Time” a “vigorous show that you wish would slow down to catch its breath,” but expressed interest in its future. “That potential makes me think it will be worthwhile sometime down the road to see the show at least once more, upon a one more time.”
Tickets for “Once Upon a One More Time” go on sale to the general public Monday.